Health professionals concerned over marijuana legalization

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Two local health professionals are sounding the alarms about legalization of marijuana in 2018.

They cite lack of research about the health impacts and inadequate health services to respond to the changes.

Alan Murdock, local pediatrician, says more research is needed to determine how cannabis use affects the brain.

“We still don’t know all the different cannabinoids and how they affect the brain. Different strains are going to do different things and the government is moving forward faster than the science.”

While the government has been talking about regulation, he says little discussion has occurred on how cannabis use affects users under the age of 25. He says evidence suggests regular cannabis will cause ADHD by damaging the brain in areas that control memory and focus.

In May the Canadian Paediatric Society released a report that said adolescents who use marijuana regularly had lower brain volumes, different folding patterns and thinning of the cortex, less neural connectivity and lower white matter integrity.

The affected brain would then work overtime to compensate for the areas that had been damaged by THC – the active ingredient in marijuana, the report says.

The study also said in 2010 Canada’s youth ranked first among 43 countries and regions across Europe and North America for marijuana use. Around one-third of youth had tried marijuana by the age of 15.

On April 13 the federal government proposed legislation to legalize, regulate and restrict access to cannabis across Canada.

The legislation is intending to keep marijuana out of the hands of youth, while clamping down on crime.

Petal Murti, a registered psychologist who works in addictions trauma and mental health, says the federal government hasn’t considered how legalization will affect the mental health system.

She says the current system is already under pressure. Murti worries that legalizing another substance without having improved mental health services is a step backwards.

“This is just another thing that we’re adding to the roster that people can easily access,” she says. “My concern is that with our population of youth we haven’t had a long-term process of implementing other resources that are well-managed for mental health.”

She says consuming recreational drugs can contribute to depression, and in some cases, psychosis.

In her line of work she sees children as young as 13 with substance abuse and other addictions. She says the young people are often using the addictions to block out or cope with traumatic experiences.

“We tend to look at the substance abuse rather than the underlying issues that are causing it,” she says. “Marijuana is just another substance that we’re putting out there.”

On July 19 premiers across Canada met at the Alberta legislature to talk about cannabis, among other social issues.

From the meeting, premiers established a provincial-territorial working group on cannabis legalization.

The group will report by Nov. 1 to premiers with suggestions on best practices to legalization and regulation, with a focus on reducing harm, protecting public safety and reducing illicit activity.

At the meeting, premiers recognized challenges within the proposed legalization timeline. Some issues they say still need to be resolved include road safety and enforcement mechanisms, preparation and training for distribution network, public education campaigns and taxation arrangement and cost coverage.

The provincial government is encouraging Albertans to participate in a survey about marijuana legalization.

The survey runs until July 31 and takes around 20 minutes to complete. So far 35,000 people have participated in the survey.

To participate, visit www.alberta.ca/cannabis-legalization.aspx

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Dayla Lahring

Dayla Lahring joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2017. She writes about business, health, general news and features. She also contributes photographs.